The Cliff Town Development

The planned estate of Cliff Town was built by railway entrepreneurs on the land between the railway line and the cliff-top, with the intention of capitalising on the arrival of the railway in Southend in 1856. The Cliff Town development was to include shops, terraced houses, public open spaces and a new Congregational Church.

The Cliff Town development was built between 1859 and 1861, and by the mid-1860’s appeared to be an ideal location for a new church, needed to replace the existing overcrowded chapel on the High Street. The church was built in 1865, in Kentish Ragstone, from the design of W A Dixon; and, with its distinctive spire and asymmetrical composition, it was an integral element of the original development whilst remaining a linchpin of the local townscape.

In May 1865 the foundation stone of the new church on Nelson Street was laid; five months later the church was open. The membership of the church continued to expand and by 1887 further accommodation was needed. Funds were raised to add a north isle, and to build a lecture hall and Sunday School rooms. The stained glass rose window in the east elevation was presented by Thomas Dowset, the first Mayor of Southend, in 1892, who had himself been instrumental in the building of the new church.


Cliff Town – View of Proposal c.1850

By 1897 the church was once more suffering from overcrowding and balconies were added to the north and south aisles. A new organ was built, and the old organ moved to a church in Prittlewell. A final phase of building was completed in 1925, with the opening of the Memorial Hall behind the church, commemorating the dead of the First World War.

Clifftown Church – c.1890s

In the late 20th century, the congregation of the church declined and eventually amalgamated with other local churches, leaving the building unused. In October 2007, the empty building was bought by the University of Essex and renovated into the stunning Clifftown Theatre & Studios, which is also home to East 15 Acting School.

Clifftown Church – the Original Design 1865